“Rebecca” is a ghost story all right.
First there was the missing musical, which postponed its Broadway opening last spring, then again in September and now, indefinitely.
Then there was the missing investor “Paul Abrams,” who was reputed to have died of malaria -- until it was determined that he never, in fact, existed at all.
Add to that the missing rainmaker Mark Hotton, a 46-year- old former Oppenheimer & Co. broker who, according to a criminal complaint filed this week in Manhattan federal court, pocketed $60,000 in fees for services never rendered to the cash-strapped producers of the $12 million show, Ben Sprecher and Louise Forlenza.
Now another significant player is MIA: Where’s Louise?
Since “Rebecca” became the talk of Times Square, the cameras and digital voice recorders have been focused squarely on Sprecher, who claims to have been duped and, as he put it to the New York Times, “raped” by Hotton.
Meanwhile, his co-general partner (which is to say, the person also on the hook for at least $7 million owed investors if “Rebecca” fails to open by the end of the year), has been as invisible as Rebecca, the dead wife in Daphne du Maurier’s spooky tale.
According to the criminal complaint, it was Forlenza who found Hotton when the producers faced a $4.5 million shortfall in their capitalization of the show.
Reached on her mobile phone yesterday, Forlenza, in her early sixties, said she couldn’t talk because her 95-year-old mother had broken her hip.
“I’m the only one who can take care of her,” Forlenza said before cutting the conversation short. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Sprecher and Forlenza didn’t lack experience dealing with Broadway’s often arcane players and financing methods. Sprecher was a general manager and co-owner of several commercial off- Broadway theaters and worked closely with Broadway’s biggest landlord, the Shubert Organization. “Rebecca” is his first time out as lead producer of a big musical.
A certified public accountant, Forlenza has provided tax planning services and auditing and management consulting to a variety of corporate clients, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. She’s a director of Innodata Inc., (INOD:US) a publicly traded Hackensack, New Jersey, concern that helps companies distribute information digitally.
In the early 1980s, she served on the faculty of the accounting department of Iona College in New Rochelle, New York.
Forlenza’s first Broadway credit was in 2005 as associate producer on “Lennon,” which despite music written by the former Beatle, flopped after 49 performances. She had producer credits on a 2007 revival of Eugene O’Neill’s “A Moon for the Misbegotten” (71 performances) and on a 2008 revival of David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” (8 performances).
In 2009, Sprecher and Forlenza formed “Global Broadway Productions,” according to the partnership’s website. It aims to develop and produce shows “that are either already ‘brands’ or have ‘branding’ potential, and have the capability for international production in multiple languages.”
An early collaboration, “Little House on the Prairie,” played Minneapolis in 2008 and other cities but never made it to Broadway.
On Monday, Hotton was arrested for scheming to defraud Forlenza and Sprecher, by inventing fictitious investors and contributing to the collapse of the show. Through a variety of frauds, victims of Hotton have lost more than $15 million, according to a separate federal filing.
Sprecher said on Tuesday that the production has already spent $6 million and owes a further $1 million to vendors. Its investors are entitled to a full refund by year-end should the partners fail to raise $12 million, according to the complaint.
Hotton appeared yesterday wearing dark blue prison scrubs before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein, who informed him of the charges. He has pleaded not guilty.
The case is U.S. v. Hotton, 12-2686, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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